How do you feel about Michael Jackson as we mark the anniversary of his death

Posted at 1:29 PM, Jun 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-25 13:32:44-04

There will never be another star as big as Michael Jackson.

You can save your time pinging me to debate this fact.

Michael Jackson was not just the King of Pop, he was a worldwide force of nature who existed in a time and space where celebrity was of a greater magnitude and mystique.

Whatever veil that remained around Jackson’s private life was lifted at Sundance in January by the documentary “Leaving Neverland,” and the stories of two men who claimed they were molested by the singer as children over a period of several years.

Even if you don’t believe the men’s accusations, the stories of Jackson’s isolated existence and childlike demeanor stoke a sense of disturbing sadness.

Jackson’s family and estate refute the allegations and point to previous sworn testimonies by the subjects of the film that Jackson did not abuse them.

Now, on the tenth anniversary of his death, some think of Jackson as child predator, while others passionately defend his innocence and remember his musical genius.

A huge part of the difficulty is the thought that both versions of his legacy, abuser and artist, could be true at the same time.

Couple that with viewing the painful stories told by the “Leaving Neverland” accusers, and it’s clear there are no winners no matter which camp you fall into.

Growing up, “MJ” was everything to me.

I had posters, buttons and every magazine cover featuring him that I could talk my parents into buying for me.

He was magical.

I had equal appreciation for the “black Michael Jackson,” who sang with his brothers and jammed solo on the “Off the Wall” album, and the “white Michael Jackson,” who created “Thriller,” had decidedly lighter skin and a nose he was not born with.

I felt devastated when he died at age 50 on June 25, 2009.

When I traveled for CNN to Los Angeles to report on his memorial, a younger colleague was genuinely perplexed when I, along with a woman from the local NBC affiliate whose name I have long since forgotten, rocked back and forth in the stands, crying during the tribute.

I understood her confusion.

She had grown up with the Jackson who had faced other molestation allegations in 1993 and 2003. (Jackson denied the claims. The first case was settled out of court, and he was acquitted in the second.)

My Michael Jackson inspired us to dance and sing and kicked open the door for other artists of color on MTV.

Hers was the man dubbed “Wacko Jacko” by the tabloids for wearing a mask in public, reportedly spending lavishly on oddities and dangling his infant son from a hotel window.

She didn’t feel the sadness I felt because she didn’t feel the same connection.

I felt grief again after viewing “Leaving Neverland.”

The HBO documentary reignited debate about whether Jackson was a serial pedophile, something he staunchly denied while he was alive and that his family has now taken up the gauntlet to refute. (CNN and HBO share parent company WarnerMedia.)

It made me mourn my version of Michael, the one who made me dream.

It’s hard to reckon that a man of such innovative artistry, who brought the world together with his work, could also be the same person who victimized young boys.

I’m giving myself permission to feel conflicted about Jackson, the man, and leaving space for affection for his music, intrinsically connected to positive memories in my life, as it was and remains for many.

Analysis by Lisa Respers France, CNN